Friday, April 25, 2014

Letter to the Editor advice

Oliver Duff, the editor of "The i" newspaper, a more compact sister paper to the British national newspaper The Independent, offers up some advice for those who write letters to the editor in his column this week.

Among other things, he suggests that the letter writers be concise (which is especially true, I'm sure for "The i"), make a point, and write a personal experience to catch the readers' attention.

In my day-job, I, too, am responsible for putting letters to the editor in a community newspaper. And, I'd like to add a few suggestions aimed more generally at letter-to-the-editor writers everywhere:

* Check with the publication to see if they have specific guidelines for letter writers. For example, at the group of newspapers I work for, some have very specific rules (no more than 325 words, must include your name, address and phone number, even though your address and phone number won't be published), while others have almost no guidelines.

* Check your facts. Even though the letter may be presented as your opinion, many newspapers want the letters to be factually correct. If you make outlandish claims that are false, libelous, defamatory, etc., your letter is less likely to be printed.

* Don't waste your time or the editor's time by sending him or her a mass-mailed letter that has nothing to do with the community the newspaper represents. I don't know an editor who will actually print a letter from someone who doesn't live in the community, has no connection to the community and isn't writing about the community. Keep it relevant.

* Check your grammar and spelling. Some newspapers have a policy of editing letters; others do not. If the paper you're writing to doesn't, you could end up looking less-than-smart if you have a bunch of typos. If they do edit letters, they may decline to run letters that require too much work. Be sure what you're sending it out is your best work.

On the whole, most editors I know enjoy and appreciate letters to the editor. They show us that someone is paying attention to what we're doing.

And, here's one more suggestion: Don't just write when you have something to complain about. If you thought a reporter or a photographer did a really good job, write that in a letter to the editor, too. We all love a little pat on the back occasionally!

Happy letter writing!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What do you write about?

In yesterday's post, I shared with you some information about Oregon Humanities' letter writing project. If you clicked through to the OH site, you may have read some of their suggestions for what participating Oregonians might write in their letters to a stranger.

OH suggests that the letter writers, "Fill a page, or maybe two. Write about yourself—What makes you who you are? Where do you live? What do you do? Where do you come from, what have you seen, and where are you going? What are your hopes and fears and desires? What brings you joy, and what brings sadness? Share a favorite story or a random memory. Be as bold as you dare."

Do you have other ideas about how to start off a penpal relationship? What do you write in a letter to someone you don't know? I'd love to hear your ideas!

(PS: Please note that, to prevent spam, I moderate the comments. So, if your comment doesn't show up immediately, know that I'll check on it as soon as I can and post it. Thank you for commenting!)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Letter writing project

Photo by Joe Mabel (Creative Commons license)

Oregon Humanities, an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has just announced a new letter-exchange program for Oregonians. The program, titled "Dear Stranger," requires participants to write a letter to a stranger and mail it to the organization. The letter writers may sign their letters or remain anonymous, but by providing their name and address to the stranger who will get their letter, they might get a reply.

Additionally, the participants send a self-addressed, stamped envelope so that they may receive a letter from a stranger as part of the exchange.

For more details, visit the Oregon Humanities website.

This particular program is just for those who live in Oregon. Do you know of any such programs in other states? If there is no letter exchange in your state, try contacting your local humanities organization and encourage them to follow Oregon's lead.

Oregon Humanities, formerly the Oregon Council for the Humanities, was established in 1971 and is one of five statewide partners of the Oregon Cultural Trust. The organization's mission is to connect Oregonians to ideas that change lives and transform communities. The group's vision is "An Oregon that invites diverse perspectives, explores challenging questions, and strives for just communities."

What a great way to celebrate National Card and Letter Writing Month!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Love letters

If you're thinking about writing a love letter during Card and Letter Writing Month, take some cues from the late Johnny Cash, who certainly had a way with words, not just in songs but in love letters, too.

Some of Johnny's letters to his wife, June Carter Cash, are featured on the Dyer & Jenkins website, as well as in the book "House of Cash: The Legacies of my Father, Johnny Cash" by their son, John Carter Cash. 

Johnny Cash was a prolific songwriter, but you have to wonder if any of the songs meant as much to June as did the letter he wrote to her on her 65th birthday. In part, he writes:
"You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much."
That letter seems to exemplify the best advice for writing a love letter: write unabashedly from your heart.

Happy letter writing today!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What to say in a letter

Many new letter writers, and even some of us veteran penpals, often wonder what they should write about, especially when corresponding with people they've never written to before. It's usually easy to write to your established friends or family members; in that case, you can often just write like you talk to them. They will probably feel like they've had a conversation with you when they're finished reading your letter.

But, if you're writing to a new penpal, you may find yourself searching for something to say. Maybe you don't want to get too personal or reveal too many specifics about yourself, especially in the beginning of your penpal relationship. In that case, look around you for inspiration.

Here are some ideas for finding a letter writing topic:

* Look at a there a holiday or special date coming up? Write about your experiences on that date in the past.

* What song is playing in the background? Is it a favorite? What type of music do you like? Why?

* What did you have for lunch? What's your favorite food?

* What is going on around you? Are you in a busy city, a quiet rural area, your own bedroom, a loud coffee shop? What do you see? What are the others around you doing?

* What are your hopes for the future? Your dreams? Your plans? Pick one and write about it in a letter. Share a little of yourself.

* Don't forget to ask some questions about your letter's recipient. Don't make it all about you. If you have a previous letter from this penpal, re-read it and make reference to something he or she mentioned before.

Happy letter writing!

(Clipart courtesy of

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

National Card and Letter Writing Month

Quodlibet by
Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts (1665)
Officially or unofficially, April is recognized by many who correspond as National Card and Letter
Writing Month.

It seems that some years, even the United States Postal Service recognizes the observance. In fact, it might have been started by them several years ago.

It seems that letter writers are always eager to have additional incentives to write more letters, and there are several other such celebrations scattered throughout the year.

But, for now, let's enjoy National Card and Letter Writing Month. There are so many blogs and websites with challenges, giveaways, etc. this month. I'll track down some of them and share them with you this month.

For example, Tiny Feast is having a giveaway of letter writing supplies. Check it out!

Now, in honor of National Card and Letter Writing Month, go write some letters!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Longtime Penpals

Bonnie Grau of Pennsylvania and Kathryn Blunt of England are the perfect examples of how much fun and joy penpals can be. They started writing to each other 70 years ago, according to an article in the York Dispatch newspaper in York, Pa.

They've met several times and continue writing old-fashioned letters to each other. The Dispatch quotes Gray as saying, "Young people today should look for the same opportunity. The letters are keepers. There's just something special about reading a tangible, personal note. I've never gotten over the joy of reading a letter."

Read the full story on the York Dispatch's website.

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